How States Are Using CARES Act Funding for Education

National

The pandemic has focused the nation’s attention on long-existing gaps in internet access and student achievement. When the U.S. Department of Education made almost $3 billion available for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER), governors and state leaders across the country strategically used those GEER and CARES Act funds to robustly support education.

Rather than solely focus on short-term initiatives, many governors have opted to use their GEER funds to create long-lasting education improvements that will benefit students long after the pandemic is over.

ExcelinEd in Action has analyzed each state’s GEER spending plans and compiled highlights of strong, student-centered approaches in using these funds. The majority of the wise allocations fall into one of these four categories:

Don’t Just Bridge the Digital Divide – Fill It

Right now, roughly 9 million K–12 students and 400,000 public school teachers lack reliable internet access required for learning. While most states have implemented short-term solutions, such as sending Wi-Fi hotspots and devices to students to address immediate needs, these efforts are critical but  leaders should be also thinking about sustainable, long-term solutions. Several governors took this opportunity to think boldly by investing in broadband infrastructure, especially for rural and underserved communities.

Governors have also expanded the capacity for virtual schooling options. This includes increasing access to Advanced Placement courses and other hard-to-staff classes for rural students who may not have access to them at their school.

Provide Grants Directly to Families

Families faced unexpected expenses and challenges this year with the abrupt switch to remote learning. One solution is to provide grants directly to families to help them afford the educational materials, devices, tutoring, resources and services their students need.  Examples include Oklahoma’s Digital Wallet, Idaho’s “Strong Families, Strong Students” and Texas’ Supplemental Special Education Services programs.

Other states, including Florida, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma, provided supplemental scholarship funds for economically vulnerable families already in a private school to maintain support for tuition costs and ensure economically hard-hit families could keep their children in the school.

Attack the Widening Achievement Gap

The impacts of COVID-19, unfortunately, affect economically disadvantaged families the most. Not only are they at greater risk of falling behind in school due to the digital divide, but learning is more difficult without a stable food supply or housing or meeting their specific learning or language needs.

Smart investments should be made in early literacy, a strong predictor of success in school and in life. By providing extra funding for reading coaches and other targeted interventions, governors in many states have made sure that their youngest learners will not continue to fall further behind.

Florida also invested in early recovery efforts in the summer and early fall to support rising kindergarten and elementary students who were known to be at risk of learning loss due to the pandemic’s disruption of intensive, in-school supports. Other governors are investing in tutors for high-needs students in underserved schools to stem learning loss. For example, Alabama allocated $9 million to support intensive before and after school tutoring resources for learning and remediation in schools.

It is still too soon to know the lasting impacts of the pandemic on education and this current generation of students. However, thanks to governors who leveraged their CARES Act and GEER funds for transformational solutions, they have taken steps to not only mitigate learning loss but also to create something lasting for our students, wherever and however they learn, long after this pandemic has passed.

Solution Areas:

Digital Access & Equity, Early Literacy

Topics:

COVID-19

About the Author

Tom Greene is the National Legislative Affairs Director for ExcelinEd in Action. In this role, he manages the organization’s advocacy team and works with leaders and lawmakers from across the states to promote student-centered solutions.